Let God build the Church

Homily 558– 13 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 3, 2023
Epistle – (166) 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel – (87) Matthew 21:33-42

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The parable of the vineyard owner is meant to be a warning.  That much is clear.  As we look at it, it was a warning to the Jews – if you don’t want the inheritance, God will find those who will.

Certainly everyone during that day, the religious leadership of Israel included, didn’t think that Christ was speaking about them in this way.  After all, they hadn’t beaten or killed or stoned the servants of God!  Certainly not the heir, the Son of God!

See, the Jews in the days of Christ had a short memory.  They had forgotten about the priests and prophets who had come, calling the people to repentance and calling them to worship the One True God, that they had indeed ignored, killed, beat, and stoned.

The reading of the prophets in the Synagogue and Temple were not really received.  As the prophets were being read, perhaps their minds wandered.  As the rabbis interpreted the meaning, the people maybe were thinking about the things they would need to do when sundown arrived – they wouldn’t do any labor before that time, of course.

Besides, the people in that day maybe didn’t understand what the fruit was that they were supposed to be providing to the owner of the vineyard.  They were maintaining the sacrifices and offerings prescribed in the Mosaic Law, so Jesus certainly couldn’t be talking about them, right?

And yet, we know He was.  The fruit that was expected was not only sacrifices and offerings in the Temple, but sacrifices of love and mercy toward each other.  Respect for one another, contentment in what God provided for us, without jealousy or desire for what God gave someone else.

We know that the message was received by the poor, the powerless, because they followed Christ.  We know it was rejected by the leadership and leading theologians of the day.

We also know, in hindsight, that Christ indeed leased the vineyard to the new vinedressers – the Gentiles.

Aren’t we in a good place now!  Aren’t we special!  Christ is the stone that the builders rejected – which became the chief cornerstone.  And we who are believers in Christ have become the new vinedressers, building ourselves into the building that has Christ as its cornerstone.

Are we though?  Are we allowing ourselves to be molded into bricks and placed in the building, with mortar all around us, tightly binding us to one another?  Or, do we, like the Jewish leadership of Christ’s day, consider ourselves above that – choosing rather to stand to the side and oversee the work being done?

We stand to the side and take the plans away from the master builder, and interpret the plans ourselves.  Never mind the example of the Master Builder who integrated His Only Begotten Son into the most important stone in the building.

We who presume to be above such things – who love to critique others but hold ourselves to the forgiveness standard of Christ, like the slave forgiven of much who chose to make demands of his fellow servant that we heard about a couple of Sundays ago.

We accept Christ’s forgiveness of us, but refuse to forgive those who have in our sole judgement wronged us.  How silly we are!

But Jesus, I don’t want to be a brick.  I want to be the boss!  And, if I am to be a brick, then I want to determine my own size and position within the building – obviously not the cornerstone, but maybe the capstone over the doorway.

When we do that, we explicitly reject God’s will for us.  We spend a lot of time fretting over finding God’s will, when what we are actually trying to find is a justification for our own will.

Now, to be clear, these vinedressers in the parable made no pretense of abiding by the will of the vineyard owner.  They were out for one thing and one thing only – controlling power.  They wanted the ownership.

That wasn’t the owner’s will.  That isn’t God’s will.

And we who live today, including the ones inside the Church, including you, and including me, need to remember that the words spoken to the Jews in the days of Christ are also speaking to us today.

We also, in our fallen humanity, want to take God’s place.  Rather than be part of the building that God is constructing, we prefer to make our own building and present it to God.

We say “Look, Lord, what I have made for You!”

But our Lord will not recognize the thing we have made, because it is not the image He desired.  He will be that parent, who has to ask – very politely and without judgement – show me how this works.  Which is the polite and non-judgemental way of asking, “What is this thing?”

We have to have the humility, the crucified ego, to accept what God gives us as being His will for us.  For now – it may change.  It may change and make things more uncomfortable for us, or perhaps more comfortable.

Ultimately, what the tenant vinedressers in the parable and what we living today have in common is the desire and effort to control what isn’t in our control.  Chief among those things out of our control, by definition, is God’s will.

So we need to stop trying to shape God’s will, and live as St. Paul did – being content regardless of our circumstances.  If we find ourselves as tenant vinedressers, or being formed by Christ to be a brick in His building, be content.  We don’t have to exercise any effort to be formed by God.  We don’t have to strive.

All we have to be is faithful, and crucify our ego, and trust that God knows best.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!